A succession battle over the once-obscure leadership post of the world's arms control watchdog could affect attempts to persuade Iran to dismantle its nuclear infrastructure and shape the direction of nuclear nonproliferation efforts for the next four years.
Abdul Samad Minty, a South African, and Yukiya Amano of Japan are the front-runners to take over as director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency after the term of Mohamed ElBaradei expires this year. The agency's leadership will be decided during a vote after a closed-door meeting of the IAEA's 35-member board here in the Austrian capital March 26-27.
By most accounts, the two officials could not be more different in their personalities and attitudes toward arms control and atomic energy, which has been growing in popularity lately as part of what scientists call the "nuclear renaissance."
The debate over the two goes to the heart of the struggle between nuclear haves and have-nots, between those in the West who define arms control as preventing emerging nations from obtaining nuclear bombs and those in the South and East who want to highlight the obligations of atomic-weapons states to disarm.
Minty, a charismatic diplomat known for his outspokenness, has emerged as the favorite of developing countries. Most are sympathetic to Iran's nuclear aspirations and suspicious of the West's attempts to deny them nuclear technology while keeping its own weapons stockpiles untouched.
Amano, a low-key technocrat, has emerged as the West's favored candidate for his commitment to restrict the agency's duties to narrow technical issues and forgo the type of opinionated diplomatic mediation practiced by ElBaradei and his predecessor, Hans Blix.
"A great director-general is one who artfully navigates the politics of the situation to permit the IAEA to fulfill its technical mission," said Jeffrey Lewis, an arms control expert at the New America Foundation. "I think [ElBaradei] has lost that sense of balance. His speeches now cover topics far outside the mandate of the IAEA, from missile defense to the Middle East peace process."
The IAEA was set up to encourage safe nuclear technology and later became the means for verifying the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which grants signatories access to nuclear technology in exchange for forgoing weapons and submitting to inspections. But the IAEA has taken on the controversial role of global troubleshooter, advocating policies for resolving disputes over nuclear technology.
"The political role that the agency has taken on has not served the agency very well," said Valerie Lincy, an analyst at the Wisconsin Project on Nuclear Arms Control. "It was meant to sound the alarm when there is a violation. But they've taken on somewhat of a political role that I don't think has necessarily helped."
Minty insists that as a representative of a country that has acquired nuclear technology, he's got the savvy to forge consensus in major disputes.
"You have to be impartial and let the facts speak for themselves," he told a group of reporters in Vienna. "The director-general has to have some political understanding because every issue that you deal with . . . has political dimension."
Amano defines the agency more narrowly as a body to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons and to promote the safe use of nuclear energy.
"The mandate has been decided by statute," he said in a brief interview. "The activities of the director-general are under the control of the board of governors."
So far the U.S. is backing Amano, mostly "because of its long-standing relationship with Japan," said an American official who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to discuss the matter. But some U.S. and U.N. officials and arms control experts harbor doubts about what kind of leadership he would provide.
"The fear is that he would be inclined to take his orders from the Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, rather than being the kind of independent leader required for a multilateral organization," the U.S. official said.
And though many are weary of the political controversies ElBaradei stirred up with candid remarks about the Israeli nuclear program and the obligations of nuclear states to disarm, having a charismatic figure at the helm invigorated staffers and enlivened the otherwise colorless issue of international arms control.
Though seeking compliance with technical considerations is important, the director-general also "has an opportunity and responsibility to provide leadership and offer solutions to vexing issues," said Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Assn.
Under ElBaradei, who along with the agency was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005, the IAEA became one of the world's most high-profile international organizations. Among leaders of the many international organizations founded after World War II, its chief is arguably second in stature only to the U.N. secretary-general.
"The IAEA is not just the watchdog of compliance," said Graham Allison, director of the Belfer Center at Harvard University. "As much as any other actor in the system, it is a guardian of the global nuclear order. Who else in this world has better mandate, standing and competence to ask and answer questions about how the world is doing the minimizing risks and maximizing advantages of all things nuclear?"
With cloudy prospects for either candidate, some speculate that a dark horse may emerge during next week's meetings. "At this point," said Kimball, "neither seems to have sufficiently broad geographical support at the IAEA."
Available at: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/la-fg-vienna-nuclear18-2009mar18,3,7726402.story
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said he hoped to meet U.S. President Barack Obama and expressed his willingness to help mediate between the West and Iran.
Assad, in an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica published on Wednesday, also confirmed he was ready to resume peace negotiations with Israel but expressed concern about the political climate there.
"With the pullout in Iraq, the will for peace, the closing of Guantanamo, (Obama) has shown himself to be a man of his word," he said, referring to the U.S. naval base in Cuba where hundreds of suspected Islamist militants have been held, most for years without trial.
But Assad said it was too soon to speak of a "historic shift" in U.S. foreign policy.
Asked about meeting Obama, Assad said: "Yes, in principle. It would be a very positive sign. But I'm not looking for a photo opportunity. I want to see him, to talk."
Obama has been reviewing U.S. policy toward Syria, including whether to return an ambassador to Damascus. Earlier this month he sent two envoys to Damascus earlier this month, where in a change of tone after years of animosity with Syria, one of the officials said they had found "a lot of common ground."
Washington pulled its ambassador out of Syria after the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
Syria, which is on the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism, denies any involvement in Hariri's murder but the United States pointed fingers at Damascus.
Assad said the United States under Obama could play an important role bringing peace to the region. Although he voiced confidence about the growing diplomatic roles of countries like Turkey and France in the area, he said "only Washington can press Israel."
Assad said he was willing to resume negotiations with Israel but expressed concerned about the ascent of Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-wing Likud party after last months' election.
"I'm not concerned about Netanyahu's thinking, but of the return of the right-wing of Israeli society, which Netanyahu's rise reflects. This is the biggest obstacle to peace."
Israel and Syria last held direct peace talks in 2000 in the United States, failing to reach a deal on the future of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, which Damascus wants returned.
Since mid-2008, Israel and Syria have held off-and-on indirect negotiations in Turkey.
On Iran, which Washington believes wants to build nuclear weapons, Assad said: " ... with Iran, I'm ready to mediate."
He urged the West to come up with concrete proposals for Tehran, which he said was "an important country, like it or not." Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
Of Iran's role in Iraq, he said Tehran's influence should not be seen as negative if based on "reciprocal respect" and drew distinction between influence and interference.
"If instead we're talking about facilitating dialogue with Tehran, a concrete proposal is needed to give to that government. Until now, I've only received an invitation to play a role. Agreed, but that's not enough," Assad said.
"What's lacking is a plan, rules and specific mechanisms to put forward to Tehran."
Available at: http://www.reuters.com/article/topNews/idUSTRE52H2RK20090318?sp=true
2. Gordon Brown Offers to cut Britain's Nuclear Arsenal
Philip Webster and Tony Halpin
(for personal use only)
Britain stands ready to give up part of its nuclear arsenal as part of a multilateral deal involving all weapon-holding states, Gordon Brown said yesterday.
He promised to consider cutting the number of British operational warheads below the present 160 in a move to kick-start the next non-proliferation talks.
Britain will continue with its plans to modernise the Trident submarine fleet, according to officials. In future there will be three submarines, each with four missile tubes, in operation at any one time, with a fourth submarine in dock on standby.
President Medvedev of Russia appeared to stall hopes of a multilateral deal, though, when he ordered a major military rearmament yesterday, warning that Nato was still intent on expanding closer to Russia’s borders and that his country faced the risk of “significant conflict”.
This was the first time that Mr Brown, who was speaking at an international conference in London, had shown a willingness to offer a significant proportion of Britain’s nuclear deterrent in negotiations. Britain has cut the number of its nuclear warheads by 50 per cent since Labour came to power in 1997.
Speaking to an audience of diplomats and scientists from 37 countries, Mr Brown pledged to put Britain “at the forefront of an international campaign to prevent nuclear proliferation and accelerate multilateral nuclear disarmament”. He announced that Britain would host a conference of recognised nuclear weapons states and set out a plan for action before next year’s non-proliferation treaty review conference.
A key ambition would be to develop “a credible roadmap towards disarmament by all the nuclear weapons states through measures that will command the confidence of all non-nuclear weapons states”, he said.
Mr Brown’s speech was generally welcomed by the Conservatives, with William Hague, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, saying that it adopted most of the Tory proposals on proliferation.
Mr Brown welcomed the commitment from America and Russia to work for a legally binding successor to the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. He added: “For our part — as soon as it becomes useful for our arsenal to be included in a broader negotiation, Britain stands ready to participate.”
President Obama will meet President Medvedev for the first time at the G20 summit in London on April 2. The two countries possess 95 per cent of the world’s nuclear weapons.
Mr Medvedev’s hawkish remarks came despite recent improvements in relations between Russia and Nato, and attempts by Mr Obama to ease tensions between Moscow and Washington over missile defence in eastern Europe.
Mr Medvedev called for the modernisation of Russia’s nuclear forces and said that “large-scale rearmament” of the Army and Navy would start in 2011. “Attempts to expand the military infrastructure of Nato near the borders of our country are continuing,” he told defence officials. “The primary task is to increase the combat readiness of our forces, first of all our strategic nuclear forces. They must be able to fulfil all tasks necessary to ensure Russia’s security.”
Mr Brown called for a “spirit of progressive multilateralism” to ensure that nuclear technology was used to provide sustainable energy and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while the threat of nuclear war was averted.
“The only way to guarantee that our children and grandchildren will be free from the threat of nuclear war is to create a world in which countries can, with confidence, refuse to take up nuclear weapons in the knowledge that they will never be required,” he said. “I know from President Obama and the new US Administration that America shares with us the ultimate ambition of a world free from nuclear weapons.”
Multilateral reductions in nuclear arsenals should be part of a new “grand global bargain” that would entail all states — including Iran — being given the possibility to develop civilian atomic power programmes under strict conditions, Mr Brown said. He restated calls for Iran to take up the offer of a civil nuclear energy programme overseen by the United Nations, or face stronger sanctions.
Nuclear-armed states could not exercise “moral and political leadership” in preventing proliferation unless they demonstrated leadership on the question of disarmament of their own arsenals, he said. “Step by step, we have to transform the discussion of nuclear disarmament from one of platitudes to one of hard commitments.”
Available at: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article5927160.ece
1. Envoy Asks for Britain's Realistic Approach Towards Iran N. Program
Fars News Agency
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Iran's residing representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) dismissed British prime minister's remarks on Iran's peaceful nuclear program and called on London to take a realistic stance on the issue. Speaking in an interview with press tv on Tuesday, Ali Asqar Soltanieh described British Prime Minister Gordon Brown statements as "very contradictory".
In a speech in London, Brown said, "Iran has the same absolute right to a peaceful civil nuclear program as any other country. Indeed the UK and international community stand ready to help Iran achieve it."
Meantime, Brown threatened Iran with further sanctions if it does not give in to Western demands over its nuclear program, saying, "I hope that Iran will make the right choice and take advantage of the international community's willingness to negotiate, including President Obama's offer of engagement, rather than face further sanctions and regional instability."
In response to Brown's comments, Soltanieh stated that London should adopt a realistic attitude toward Tehran instead of issuing "repetitive statements" criticizing the Iranian nuclear fuel program.
"The UK has only one option, to cope with the new realities. The reality is that Iran is fully committed to the NPT (Non-Proliferation Treaty) and (has) cooperated with the IAEA and there has been no evidence of diversion of the nuclear material found by the IAEA... to prohibited purposes," Soltanieh reiterated.
The NPT entitles all signatories, including Iran, to the right of enrichment.
Washington and its Western allies accuse Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian nuclear program, while they have never presented any corroborative evidence to substantiate their allegations. Iran denies the charges and insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.
Tehran stresses that the country has always pursued a civilian path to provide power to the growing number of Iranian population, whose fossil fuel would eventually run dry.
In response to another part of Brown's remarks in which he labeled Tehran as a "test case" in potential quests by other nations seeking to acquire civilian nuclear technology, Soltanieh noted that Iran has mastered uranium enrichment technology and all its nuclear activities are being monitored by the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Soltanieh warned that such comments could jeopardize the constructive cooperation between Iran and the IAEA.
Available at: http://english.farsnews.com/newstext.php?nn=8712280417
2. Report: IDF Chief Gave U.S. Fresh Intel on Iran Nukes Program
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American sources told the Saudi newspaper Al-Watan that Israel Defense Forces chief Gabi Ashkenazi provided fresh intelligence to the United States concerning Iran's nuclear facility in Arak during his visit to Washington earlier this week, according to Israel Radio.
Ashkenazi on Monday said that while Israel was interested in exhausting diplomatic options against Iran's nuclear program, the army must nevertheless prepare itself for a military attack.
The army chief decided to cut short his trip in order to take part in a special cabinet session on negotiations for a deal to release abducted Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.
Arak is considered one of Iran's key nuclear sites that is believed to contain a heavy water reactor. A Washington think-tank issued a report on Tuesday which said that ballistic missiles could be Israel's weapon of choice against Iranian nuclear facilities if it decides on a pre-emptive attack and deems air strikes too risky.
Israel is widely assumed to have Jericho missiles capable of hitting Iran with an accuracy of a few dozen meters (yards) from target. Such a capability would be free of warplanes' main drawbacks - limits on fuel and ordnance, and perils to pilots.
Extrapolating from analyst assessments that the most advanced Jerichos carry 750 kg (1,650 lb) conventional warheads, Abdullah Toukan of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said 42 missiles would be enough to "severely damage or demolish" Iran's core nuclear sites at Natanz, Esfahan and Arak.
During a visit to Washington, D.C., Ashkenazi met with Dennis Ross, the designated U.S. envoy to the Persian Gulf, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to discuss the Iranian issue.
The IDF chief told Ross that Israel would not tolerate a nuclear Iran. He said that a diplomatic approach to Iran's contentious nuclear program must be taken first, but said Israel must also prepare for other possibilities.
Ashkenazi also met during his trip with General James Jones, national security adviser to President Barack Obama, to discuss other Middle East issues. The IDF chief held a number of other meetings over the course of his visit, but was forced to turn down an invitation to dine at the home of outgoing Israeli envoy Salai Meridor, in the company of other senior American officials.
While in New York, Ashkenazi attended an event sponsored by the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces and attended by some 1,500 donors.
Available at: http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1071977.html
1. 6-Party Talks to Break Down if U.S. Sanctions N. Korea Over Rocket: Report
Yonhap News Agency
(for personal use only)
North Korea will reject the six-party denuclearization talks should the Barack Obama administration sanction it over its rocket launch, a pro-Pyongyang newspaper hinted Thursday.
However, North Korea is ready to respond if the U.S. proposes dialogue, said the Choson Sinbo, a Tokyo-based paper that conveys North Korea's position.
"It is too early to predict which action the Obama administration that has said its North Korea policy is 'under review' will take," the paper said. "One thing that is certain is that should it choose to go with sanctions and pressure, its dialogue process with North Korea that has been held through the diplomatic frame of six-party talks will face the risk of suspension."
North Korea and the U.S. have been negotiating ways to end the North's nuclear weapons program since 2003, along with South Korea, China, Japan and Russia. Washington removed North Korea from its list of terrorism-sponsoring nations, and the North began disabling its major nuclear facility in Yongbyon as part of the action-for-action deal. But the process stopped late last year due to a dispute over how to verify the North's past nuclear activity.
Tension erupted again in January after intelligence officials detected North Korea's alleged missile activity at a base on the country's eastern coast. Early this month, Pyongyang told international aviation and maritime agencies that it will put a "communications satellite" into orbit between April 4-8, saying the launch is part of its space development program. The U.S., Japan and South Korea suspect it could be a cover for testing a long-range missile. A top American general this week said the U.S. could shoot down the North Korean rocket should it be a ballistic missile threatening U.S. territory.
Pyongyang has warned any foreign attempt to intercept its rocket will lead to war.
"The satellite launch in April will take place as scheduled," the paper said in a commentary titled "North Korea gives chance for self-reflection through its notice of satellite launch plan."
North Korea has said that its notice of the coordinates where the rocket boosters will fall -- the first one approximately 650km east of the launch site, and the second 3,600km east of the site. The notice is a further message to countries in the region that North Korea aims for peaceful space development, the Choson Sinbo said.
"Sanctions and pressure by hostile nations against North Korea's exercise of its sovereign right have never improved the situation," it said, but triggered "super hardline responses" from North Korea.
Contrary to its wait-and-see approach toward the U.S., the paper hurled harsh criticism at South Korea and Japan.
"Those countries who rashly act, taking the current situation as an opportunity to sharpen their confrontational policy toward North Korea, will be forced to face 'diplomatic retaliation' when the missile fuss comes to a settlement stage," it said, referring to South Korea and Japan.
In another commentary, the Choson Sinbo said North Korea wants dialogue with the U.S.
"It is only a matter of time that the Obama administration will have to choose between 'dialogue and confrontation,' 'war and peace,'" it said. "Should the Obama administration choose 'dialogue' and 'peace,' North Korea is ready to respond."
Available at: http://english.yonhapnews.co.kr/northkorea/2009/03/19/1/0401000000AEN20090319007700315F.HTML
2. Japan Mulling More Sanctions Against North Korea
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Japan may move Patriot missiles to its northern coast for self-protection in case North Korea's planned rocket launch fails, the defense minister said Thursday as the prime minister warned of more possible sanctions against Pyongyang.
Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said some of the six batteries of PAC-3 missiles, now in and around Tokyo, may be shifted to intercept fragments that might fall into Japanese territory if North Korea's rocket launch, scheduled for sometime between April 4 and 8, goes bad.
"We are considering various measures, including that," Hamada told reporters.
Pyongyang has designated the waters off Akita and Iwate prefectures (states) as a risk zone for falling debris.
Japan's military is also considering mobilizing a pair of destroyers carrying the SM-3 ship-to-air missile defense system from their southern home port of Sasebo, and is in close contact with the U.S. military to coordinate response in case of an emergency, a ministry official said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.
Earlier Thursday, Prime Minister Taro Aso said Japan could impose more sanctions on North Korea if it goes ahead with the planned rocket launch, regardless of its payload. He said Tokyo also plans to raise the issue with the U.N. Security Council.
"We will make a comprehensive decision, including the possibility of imposing tougher sanctions," Aso told a parliamentary committee.
North Korea says it intends to launch a telecommunications satellite into orbit, but many fear it may be testing ballistic missile technology and have demanded the launch not take place. The North is barred by U.N. sanctions from testing ballistic missiles.
Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said Japan considers any launch, even if the payload is a satellite, as a missile test. North Korea has indicated that the rocket would be launched in an easterly direction, taking it over Japan and the Pacific Ocean.
"Obviously, it is our country that faces the most serious threat," Nakasone said. "We plan to take a leadership role so that the entire international community will join in solid action to support sanctions."
Members of the ruling party's committee on North Korea are calling for sanctions that include an extension of ongoing economic restrictions from six months to one year, a total export ban and tougher restrictions on money transfers to the North.
Japan imposed tight trade sanctions against Pyongyang in 2006 after it tested ballistic missiles in waters between the two countries and conducted an atomic test. Japan's current sanctions, which have been extended every six months since, are set to expire April 13.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura said if the launch fails, rocket fragments could drop on Japan. He also reiterated Tokyo's threat to shoot down any objects that might harm lives or property.
"We must protect the people's lives and assets and we're preparing for any development," he said.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5grtQrhruhysahWQSl5_5OsNanrEgD97112IO4
China's premier urged North Korea to cooperate with efforts to resume stalled international talks on dismantling Pyongyang's nuclear programs, state media said Thursday as the North's visiting premier met with Chinese President Hu Jintao.
Premier Kim Yong Il passed on "warm greetings" to Hu from North Korea's reclusive leader Kim Jong Il.
Reporters were ushered from the room before more substantial talks began. However, the meeting was likely to include discussion about a possible summit between Hu and Kim Jong Il, the South Korean news agency Yonhap reported ahead of the meeting, citing unnamed sources in Beijing.
The official People's Daily newspaper said Premier Wen Jiabao told Kim Yong Il a day earlier that China wants to "actively push forward" the deadlocked negotiations involving the two Koreas, China, the U.S., Russia and Japan.
Wen also said China is willing to play a constructive role in the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, the paper said.
North Korea has sent jitters through the international community with the announcement that it plans to launch a communications satellite in early April, an event that many believe will be a cover for a long-range missile test.
On Wednesday, the North reasserted its right to launch a satellite into space, saying Russia, Iran, India and many other countries have been pursuing peaceful space programs, according to the country's official Korean Central News Agency.
Regional powers are looking to China, host of the international talks and North Korea's biggest benefactor and longtime communist ally, to help calm tensions in the region and return Pyongyang to the negotiating table.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang would not elaborate on what steps China was planning to take in the matter, but said Thursday that Beijing "sincerely hopes" the next round of six-party talks can be held as soon as possible.
The timing would depend on whether the delegations can agree on when to meet and "whether the conditions are right," Qin said.
China's chief delegate to the international nuclear talks, Wu Dawei, quietly made a trip to the North in February seeking a breakthrough, South Korean and Japanese media reported at the time. Beijing has not confirmed the trip.
Chinese leaders have asked Kim Jong Il to visit China after his nation's newly elected parliament holds its first session, Yonhap said. No date has been announced publicly, but the session is expected to take place in early April.
Kim, 67, reportedly suffered a stroke last August, around the time the elections were due to be held. North Korea denies he was ill and did not provide a reason for delaying the ballot until March, when Kim was re-elected.
Available at: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5jxywfYOEUe0Z5qQlwrNlpGDA1XOQD9710SCG0
North Korea, complaining it hasn't been given energy aid as promised, has slowed decommissioning work at its nuclear reactor, sources said Tuesday.
Citing unnamed sources, the Japanese news agency Kyodo said North Korea's moves to decommission its nuclear reactor at Yongbyon have slowed as delivery of about 75 percent of assistance agreed to in "six-party" talks has been completed but the other 25 percent remains held up.
In response, North Korea has slowed the pace of decommissioning work by cutting the number of nuclear fuel rods it is removing from the reactor from 15 per day to 15 per week, sources told Kyodo. About 80 percent of the 8,000 nuclear fuel rods have been removed from the reactor and placed in an adjacent water pond, officials say.
Japan has refused to join in the energy assistance to Pyongyang, saying it is first seeking the resolution of kidnapping cases of Japanese nationals by North Korean agents in the 1970s and 1980s, Kyodo reported.
Available at: http://www.upiasia.com/Top_News/2009/03/17/N_Korea_slows_nuke_plant_decommissioning/UPI-19781237297801/
1. The Secret Behind Russia's Nuclear Weapons Plans
United Press International
(for personal use only)
President Dmitry Medvedev said Russia would modernize its armed forces and nuclear weapons to counter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization's eastward expansion, but experts say the West does not have to worry about a new crisis with Moscow.
The Russian armed forces, Medvedev Tuesday told top Russian generals, will be expanded starting in 2011. The president cited the "serious potential for conflict" in many regions, international terrorism and NATO's military eastward expansion as reasons for the move.
"The primary task is to increase the combat readiness of our forces, particularly our strategic nuclear forces," which are key to Russia's national security, the president said.
Medvedev's remarks come two weeks before he is due to meet for the first time with U.S. President Barack Obama in London, a gathering experts hope will start a new and more positive era in relations between the two powers.
Washington has been irritated by the war in Georgia, Russia's human-rights shortcomings and Moscow's blocking position regarding Kosovo's independence.
The Kremlin, on the other hand, deemed the Bush administration's push for NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia and the plan to station a missile defense system in Eastern Europe as threats to Russia's national security.
Obama recently indicated he may bury the missile defense system for the sake of better relations with Russia, with Moscow reacting quite favorably; a recent meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went remarkably well, spreading hope for better ties ahead. Before Medvedev met with the military leaders, the Russian media even speculated that he might announce a willingness to reduce the nuclear arsenal. The exact opposite has happened, and that may startle analysts in Washington, especially as Russia's top nuclear weapons official, Col. Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov, announced Tuesday that Moscow would deploy a regiment of RS-24 intercontinental missiles fitted with nuclear warheads after Dec. 5.
Experts in Europe, however, say Medvedev's comments don't mean a return to the old conflict days.
"You can see it as an attempt by Moscow to raise the stakes for the next U.S.-Russian negotiations by creating bargaining power," Susan Stewart, a Russia expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a Berlin-based think tank, told United Press International in a telephone interview Wednesday. "In Russia, the Kremlin's rhetoric often counteracts its actions, so I wouldn't overestimate Medvedev's remarks."
Medvedev and Obama are poised to find a successor agreement to the U.S.-Russian Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty, which runs out Dec. 5, and Medvedev simply may not be willing to enter these talks empty-handed.
Alexander Rahr, a leading Russia expert working at the German Council on Foreign Relations, has another idea.
The expert suggested that Medvedev with his comments wanted to please Russia's military elites, who have been irritated by recent budget cuts (think financial crisis) and Medvedev's military reform plans. The Russian president said he wanted to make Russia's 1.5 millionong armed forces, a remnant of the Cold War, smaller and more mobile, and that means cutting jobs and breaking up old structures.
"The military in Russia has its own interests, and they have a strong lobby," Rahr told UPI in a telephone interview Wednesday. "Medvedev is not in control of the Russian armed forces yet. They still see (Prime Minister and former President Vladimir) Putin as their commander in chief."
It's Medvedev's attempt to emancipate himself from strongman Putin that has the president meandering through international diplomacy, requiring him to sometimes send conflicting messages, Rahr said.
"Medvedev wants to push through a more liberal domestic and foreign policy concept, and that's not easy in Russia."
Available at: http://www.upi.com/Emerging_Threats/2009/03/18/The_secret_behind_Russias_nuclear_weapons_plans/UPI-74071237406700/2/
1. Japan Court Rejects Nuclear Reactor Closure Order
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A Japanese court on Wednesday overturned a lower court ruling that ordered the country's second-largest nuclear power producer to shut down a reactor over concerns about its earthquake resistance.
Hokuriku Electric Power Co., based in Toyama, central Japan, was ordered in 2006 to close its reactor after nearby residents argued in court that it had inadequate quake resistance.
The residents said they could be exposed to radiation if a strong earthquake struck near the reactor.
But the Nagoya High Court ruled Wednesday that the reactor's safety measures conformed with strict government guidelines, and said it did not think the residents faced a radiation threat, according to a statement from Hokuriku Electric Power.
The residents said they would appeal to the Supreme Court, according to Kyodo News agency. They cited a magnitude-6.8 quake in northern Japan in July 2007 that caused leaks at the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear complex, the world's largest by capacity, and raised concerns about safety at Japan's nuclear power plants.
The earthquake killed 15 people and injured more than 2,300.
Japan relies on nuclear power for about 30 percent of its electricity. The country is one of the most earthquake-prone in the world.
Available at: http://www.iht.com/articles/ap/2009/03/18/asia/AS-Japan-Nuclear.php
2. Russia, Nigeria Agree to Work Together on Nuclear Energy
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Russia and Nigeria signed Wednesday an agreement to cooperate in building nuclear reactors in the west African country and jointly exploring for uranium.
The protocol "foresees the possibility of bilateral cooperation for the development of Nigeria's nuclear infrastructure" and the "joint exploration and exploitation of uranium deposits," Russia's nuclear energy agency Rosatom said.
The two countries will "prepare a plan for an inter-governmental cooperation agreement on the peaceful use of atomic energy," Rosatom said in a statement.
Available at: http://www.africasia.com/services/news/newsitem.php?area=africa&item=090318211032.m7a8od8s.php
The joint owners of Spain's 500 megawatt Garona nuclear power station are confident the government will renew the ageing plant's operating permit when it expires in July.
Spain's nuclear watchdog CSN is preparing a technical report on the plant which it is due to submit by June to the government, which will have the final say.
"I am sure the decision will be in line with the excellent state of the plant, which has been absolutely modernised," Iberdrola Chairman Ignacio Sanchez Galan told a news conference in Bilbao.
Spain's biggest electricity utility Iberdrola (IBE.MC) and number-two firm Endesa (ELE.MC) each own 50 percent of Garona.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialist government has vowed to phase out Spain's eight nuclear power plants amid a boom in renewable energy. Spain is the world's third-largest producer of wind power, and the second of solar.
Ten-year operating permits for seven of the plants expire between 2009 and 2011, or well within Zapatero's mandate, but the government has not ruled out renewing them.
The government did, however, halt production at the Cabrera nuclear plant in 2006.
Spain's nuclear power stations generate about 7,300 MW when all are working normally and in 2008 provided 18.3 percent of the country's electricity.
Available at: http://uk.reuters.com/article/oilRpt/idUKLI95869720090318
Atomenergoprom and Japan's Toshiba Corporation have agreed to join forces to develop the market of nuclear products and services in Japan and other Asian countries on a non-exclusive basis, the Russian state-owned nuclear holding's press office has announced. To be more specific, the parties are considering the joint construction in either Japan or another country of a uranium enrichment plant based on Russia's highly effective gas centrifuge technology, the press office's statement reads. The parties will also study the possibility of improving nuclear plants' construction technology, the building of new plants in Russia, as well as the prospects of joint nuclear and heating equipment production and supplies.
These agreements provide a logical extension of the ideas reflected in a general framework accord signed by the parties in Moscow on March 20, 2008, Atomenergoprom's senior executive Vladimir Travin was cited by the company's press office as saying.
Available at: http://www.rbcnews.com/free/20090319144427.shtml
2. Rosatom Inks Peaceful Atom Accord with Mongolia
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Russian atomic energy state corporation Rosatom and the Mongolian Nuclear Regulatory Authority have signed an agreement on stepping up cooperation. The document was signed following Russian-Mongolian talks between the two countries' prime ministers in Moscow today. As stated in the documents, the bilateral accord is meant to provide the impetus for developing interaction in the peaceful use of atomic energy.
As reported earlier, news that Rosatom was poised to take part in developing Mongolia's nuclear energy industry first appeared in April 2008, when the Russian state corporations' chief Sergei Kiriyenko said following a meeting with Mongolian Prime Minister Sanjaa Bayar that Rosatom would draft the designs for a small- and medium-capacity nuclear power plant in Mongolia and possibly participate in the further exploration of the republic's uranium fields, as well as joint investment in uranium production and staff training. At the time, Rosatom estimated Mongolia's natural uranium reserves at over 100,000 tonnes.
The two countries' PMs also signed a memorandum of understanding between Russian Agricultural Bank and Mongolia's Ministry of Food, Agriculture, and Light Industry, among other things.
Available at: http://www.rbcnews.com/free/20090317161051.shtml
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